How a Michelin-starred restaurant is using mannequins to ensure diners don't feel lonely while social distancing

Restaurant staff have been told to treat the mannequins like guests, to recreate some semblance of normalcy

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With restaurants around the world hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, many establishments are coming up with new techniques to adapt to the "new normal".

From a "corona-proof" table for one in a Swedish valley to private greenhouses in Amsterdam for guests to dine in, many restaurants are finding creative ways to adapt to new social distancing guidelines.

One restaurant in Washington, Virginia has taken this to a whole new level with its novel, albeit eerie, solution. The Inn at Little Washington is placing mannequins at empty tables to give customers some semblance of normalcy.

“When we needed to solve the problem of social distancing and reducing our restaurant’s occupancy by half, the solution seemed obvious – fill it with interestingly dressed dummies,” Patrick O’Connell, the chef and owner of the restaurant told a local news station. “I’ve always had a thing for mannequins – they never complain about anything, and you can have lots of fun dressing them up.”

As per Virginia’s regulations, restaurants will be allowed to open later this month, but can only operate at 50 per cent capacity. So, for now, it looks like mannequins will take up the remaining space.

The restaurant teased a little preview on its social media on Tuesday, May 12, showing dummies seated in the restaurant, formally dressed in 1940s-era-themed clothing and positioned as though they’re speaking to one another. “Social distancing is ‘inn’ style,” read the caption.

The restaurant has teamed up with local theatre company Design Foundry and Signature Theatre, which will be providing them with the costumes for the mannequins. According to a local publication, restaurant staff have even been asked to pour the mannequins drinks and “ask them about their evening”.

When news broke of the rather unorthodox social distancing solution, it went viral online. Although the internet seems pretty divided on the matter. While many heralded it as a creative solution to a modern problem, many also commented on its eerie nature, calling it “nightmare fuel".

This isn’t the first time restaurants and cafes have relied upon props to help lonely customers or give a restaurant a busier look. In the past, The Moomin Cafe in Tokyo, Japan, went viral for seating customers next to giant stuffed animals.